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Six degrees of separation is the theory that one person on the planet can be connected to another through a short chain of acquaintances. In fact, it suggests that you are no more than a mere six introductions away from any other person in the world. Given the global population of 7.7 billion, this seems difficult to believe. However, as Sandy Long came to find on her recent trip with us on the Trans-Mongolian Express, the world may just be that small. This is the extraordinary story of a chance meeting in a Russian Dacha.

While travelling on the Trans-Mongolian Express trip from Moscow to Ulaan Baatar this summer, I had an amazing experience I want to share with you.

A group of 35 of us started and ended the trip together, but an additional two people from China joined us later in the journey. It was upon getting to know the new arrivals over lunch in Irkutsk that a remarkable thing happened.

I had just finished an authentic banya experience adjacent to the Dacha, where the resident hosts treated us to time in their home. It was now time for lunch, so I went to the dining area, found the one empty seat at a table and sat down across from the two Chinese guests.

A young boy holding the American flag

The original photograph from 40 years ago

During our conversation, we addressed the question of whether any of us had ever been to China and if so, where? If not, were we planning a visit?

Everyone told their stories and then I shared that in 1980, I had been part of the Lindblad Travel Group, which was the first foreign group to be allowed into China. I was carrying small American flags and a Polaroid camera. In one area we visited, the local villagers were lined up to witness their first Caucasian visitors. I gave an American flag to a young boy, took his picture and gave the photo to him to keep.

Suddenly, Wen, the Chinese man sitting directly across from me, shouted: “I still have that picture!” He proceeded to tell me that he’d kept the photo on his wall for all these years and had just recently taken a picture of it on his cell phone before taking it down to move house. He found the photo on his phone and showed it to me – there he was, about 6 ½ years old, holding the American flag.

We were both absolutely amazed at the fact that after 40 years, we just “happened” to meet, sitting across the table for lunch in a Siberian Dacha! So much synchronicity had to occur for our meeting again this way after 40 years.

Of course, we had our picture taken standing together holding his phone with the photo on it.

I have no idea if we’re destined to meet again, but this meeting has left me in absolute awe and wonder at how a chance meeting so long ago may have had some impact on another’s life story.